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Illustration from Bhagavad Gita manuscript: Arjuna's vision of Krishna's Cosmic Form. Kashmir. Circa early 19th century. Gouache and gold on paper. 10 x 15.5cm

Pictures such as this would have been around four to a folio, in a manuscript made as a visual aid for daily prayer and recitation. In this and other ways Kashmiri manuscript illustrations differ from Indian miniature paintings. It also accounts for many Kasmiri folios being worn or in poor condition as they would not be preserved in protective bundles like miniatures in the tradition of those commissioned by courts and courtiers, only occasionally unwrapped and viewed with care, but handled on a daily basis - the images of Krishna and other deities even rubbed with ritual pastes during puja - as would be a bronze murti or icon. Additionally, by being handed from generation to generation they would kept in continuous use over a period of decades. Kashmiri manuscripts were not commissioned by nobility and the wealthy, but ready-made and bought for cash by pious Hindus - perhaps traders, officials, pandits, brahmins - for domestic use and as a portable shrine for travel. For reasons of purpose, these manuscripts are (like those for Jains) conservative in nature, with artists' intent not on the production of fine art but in representing iconic images of the gods, with a presence gained by an almost abstracted simplicity of form and merely summary application of detail to decorative elements such as floral borders.

All images and text © Peter Blohm